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The tzykanisterion (Greek: τζυκανιστήριον) was a stadium for playing the tzykanion (τζυκάνιον, from Middle Persian čaukān, čōkān), a kind of polo adopted by the Byzantines from Sassanid Persia.[1]


According to John Kinnamos (263.17–264.11), the tzykanion was played by two teams on horseback, equipped with long sticks topped by nets, with which they tried to push an apple-sized leather ball into the opposite team's goal.[2] The sport was very popular among the Byzantine nobility: Emperor Basil I (r. 867–886) excelled at it; his son, Emperor Alexander (r. 912–913), died from exhaustion while playing, Emperor Alexios I Komnenos (r. 1081–1118) was injured while playing with Tatikios, and John I of Trebizond (r. 1235–1238) died from a fatal injury during a game.[2][3]

The Great Palace of Constantinople featured a tzykanisterion, first built by Emperor Theodosius II (r. 408–450) on the southeastern part of the palace precinct. It was demolished by Basil I in order to erect the Nea Ekklesia church in its place, and rebuilt in larger size further east, connected to the Nea with two galleries.[4] Aside from Constantinople and Trebizond, other Byzantine cities also featured tzykanisteria, most notably Sparta, Ephesus, and Athens, something which modern scholars interpret as an indication of a thriving urban aristocracy.[5]

These were also used as places of public tortures and executions, as it is historically recorded for the tzykanisteria of Constantinople and Ephesus.[6]


  1. ^ Janin 1964, pp. 118–119.
  2. ^ a b Kazhdan 1991, p. 1939.
  3. ^ Anna Komnene,The Alexiad, Book XIV, Chapter IV, translator Elizabeth Dawes
  4. ^ Kazhdan 1991, p. 2137.
  5. ^ Laiou 2002, Maria Kazanaki-Lappa, "Medieval Athens", p. 643.
  6. ^ Anna Komnene,The Alexiad, Book XV, Chapter IX, translator Elizabeth Dawes; Theophanes the Confessor, Chronographia 1, de Boor, C. (ed.) (Leipzig 1883), p. 445.3-9.


  • Janin, Raymond (1964). Constantinople Byzantine. Développement Urbaine et Répertoire Topographique (in French). Paris, France: Institut Français d'Etudes Byzantines.
  • Kazhdan, Alexander Petrovich, ed. (1991). The Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium. New York, New York and Oxford, United Kingdom: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-504652-6.
  • Laiou, Angeliki E., ed. (2002). The Economic History of Byzantium from the Seventh through the Fifteenth Century (PDF). Washington, District of Columbia: Dumbarton Oaks. ISBN 0-88402-288-9. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2012-02-18.